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I had an Italian flatmate once who was on the brink of lynching me when he saw I used garlic and onion in one dish. He said that - at least in Italian cuisine - thats an absolute no-no. You can use both, but never together.

Especially with something like Spinach, I think that combination is quite nice though. Is this an Italian kitchen "rule", a general thing, or was he just misinformed?

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It's not true in Sicilian cuisine. It might be a regional thing, but it's nowhere near as widespread as the fish and cheese "rule". – Joe Mar 13 at 13:06
I'd say it's a yes-yes! – Turion Mar 13 at 16:36
Definitely not a general thing. There are plenty of Spanish dishes that have both garlic and onion. – user1906 Mar 14 at 2:30
I never cook without both garlic and onion. – Lego Stormtroopr Mar 14 at 3:30
Onions and garlic are some of the oldest friends in culinary history - nearly every region of every continent on the planet boasts a suite of dishes that combine the two. – J... Mar 14 at 13:13
up vote 37 down vote accepted

Clearly, your flatmate was misinformed. Firstly, Italian cuisine is defined regionally. There are vast differences throughout the country, usually defined by local ingredients and historical influences. However, there are many Italian dishes...from north to south that contain both onion and garlic. It could be true that someone's specific recipe for, spinach, for example may only have onion...or only have garlic, but if you like the combination, there is no reason not to use it. There is no such general "rule" in Italian cuisine.

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Moscafj has the answer. I'll also add, the regionalization gets even more complicated when you apply it to Italian communities outside Italy. In the US.. think the difference between Chicago style and New York pizzas. – Paulb Mar 15 at 19:42

I agree with moscafj's general answer: there is no pan-Italian "rule" like this in Italian cuisine. It's common to mix the two in many Italian regions, and it's certainly common in other world cuisines.

On the other hand, I wouldn't dismiss this story out-of-hand or as some quirk of one crazy roommate.

I grew up near an old Italian neighbor, daughter of Italian immigrants. Her mother-in-law also lived with her, a direct Italian immigrant born around 1900 (immigrated sometime before mid-century). It was an absolute rule in their house that onion and garlic should never be combined in the same dish. And yes, they associated this with "the Old Country."

Alas, I don't know what region they were from, and they both died long ago. And I wouldn't pass on this anecdote here except I did a few quick internet searches and discovered that a few people have asked similar things on various internet forums concerning Italian cuisine. And both Mark Bittman and Gino D'Acampo have apparently passed on tales that Italian cooks have told them the same thing. (I didn't track down links to the original sources, but I have no reason to doubt these forum posts are simply making this stuff up.)

I've eaten food in Italy that clearly contained both. I know Italians who like cooking, and I've never heard them talk about this. On the other hand, I've heard this particular "rule" a couple times, and it seems only associated with Italian cuisine. I'm not really interested in trying to track down more information on it, but it sounds to me like it's at least part of cooking "lore" for some Italians, perhaps from a particular region or something.

EDIT: Just for one Italian source which seems to reference the issue, see here. After a discussion of separate uses for onion and garlic, the question of whether to use them together comes up:

Il dubbio, a questo punto, viene: è possibile utilizzare aglio e cipolla insieme? La questione divide da sempre gli appassionati di cucina.

Basically, this passage strongly implies that there are passionate cooks out there who argue about whether it's even possible to combine the two. (The link goes on to argue that it is possible, but nevertheless it references this question as if it were a common dispute.) The opening paragraph also implies there are traditional fixed rules that dictate the specific occasions when they could be properly combined.

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Very interesting, thanks a lot for the Infos! – Hans Meiser Mar 15 at 5:10
A friend of mine is Naples influenced and is only a mild fan of garlic. My Sicilian influenced friends consume garlic by the bunch, with or without onions. – Paulb Mar 15 at 19:51

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